“The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been so ineffective at recovering species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has fabricated a record of success.”
Robert Gordon, The Heritage Foundation
Revealing a stunning record of failure and fabrication over nearly half-a-century, a new report by Robert Gordon of the Heritage Foundation calls for sweeping administrative reforms of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Enacted in 1973, the ESA has managed to “recover” only 40 species, or slightly less than one species per year.
“If not one more bird. beetle, or bear were added to the list of federally endangered or threatened animals and plants and somehow species recovered at 10 times that rate,” the report notes, “It would take well over a century-and-a-half to work through the current list. There is, however, no indication that the list of regulated species will stop growing.”
“Federally Funded Fiction”
Even worse, almost half of the “recovered” species – 18 out of 40 – are what Gordon calls “federally funded fiction.” It turns out that these 18 “recovered” species were never endangered in the first place and were placed on the endangered species list due to poor data. This, however, has not kept the Department of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) from trumpeting their “recovery” as a success.
“This deceitful practice portrays mistakes as successes, distorting the most important measure of the program,” Gordon writes. “It also triggers other mandatory actions further wasting taxpayer dollars, serves as a justification for the adoption of more restrictive land management practices by other agencies, obscures significant problems with the data used to justify listing species, and erodes the overall credibility of the Service and the program.”
Were it not for the incompetence and dishonesty of the FWS, the examples of phony recoveries cited in the report would be comical. The Concho water snake found itself on the endangered list, because the FWS determined that the construction of a reservoir would destroy its habitat. After the reservoir was created, the snake slithered right in, and its numbers thrived. Also, the FWS found that it had grossly underestimated the size of the snake’s range. In touting the success of the snake’s “recovery,” the FWS said the creature had faced “habitat modification and destruction” but refused to acknowledge that the water snake was never threatened.
Johnston’s Frankenia, a plant found only in a few counties in southern Texas, was put on the endangered species list in 1984. At the time, the FWS claimed there were only five population with about 1,000 plants and that they were facing “grazing pressure.” Subsequent surveys found about 4 million plants by one estimate – and over 9 million by another. While the estimate of 4 million was available by 1999, it took the FWS another 17 years to delist the plant.
Then there is the Maguire daisy, an example of taxonomic error. In 2011, the FWS triumphantly announced the delisting of the daisy in a press release titled. “[A]n Endangered Species Success Story,” stating that the “population of the daisy was known to number seven plants when it was listed as endangered in 1985 but now numbers 163,000 plants with 10 populations….It is the 21st species to be delisted due to recovery.” Gordon points out, however, that the larger numbers reflects more thorough surveys and “the fact that the Maguire Daisy and another plant that had been believed to be distinct were in fact the same species.”
“Even if a species should never have been listed, while it is listed, landowners or businesses whose actions might unintentionally harm a member are potentially subject to the ESA’s fines and penalties,” Gordon writes. The report’s appendix provides information on 100 listed species that were or may have been erroneously listed but remain regulated under the ESA as well as a number that are possibly extinct.
The ESA has been a mess for decades, wasting public and private resources while doing precious little for the plants and animals it is supposed to protect. In the absence of a thorough congressional overhaul of the broken law – something that is as desirable as it is unlikely – Gordon makes several recommendations for dealing with the ESA’s flaws administratively.
Among other things, he recommends having the Interior Secretary issue an order directing the FWS to accurately identify the data that form the basis for removing or downlisting a species. Also, the FWS should correct the record by identifying and revising the basis of delisting for those species that the FWS has wrongly declared to have recovered. In addition, FWS should be directed to aggressively pursue the delisting of species listed using erroneous data or that are extinct.
The meticulously researched Heritage report provides an overview of the sham that is the ESA. Bureaucrats at the FWS can spend a lucrative 30-year career overseeing the “recovery” of a grand total of two species while imposing land-use restrictions throughout rural America that harm humans and do next to nothing for wildlife.